Sometimes, I find myself challenged by how we do Easter. I mean as a church. Feel free to also celebrate the bunny and chocolate and spring (if it ever gets here). We could use a little celebration right now – observing isolation, social distancing and all the necessary protocols, of course.
I’ve often found myself with questions as much as anything else as we navigate the traditional story of Easter. And maybe that’s a good place to start: the “traditional” story. The Last Supper, Good Friday and Easter Day have stories we know so well because we tell them every year. We know how the story goes (mostly) and we have specific rituals and songs and words to remind us. But sometimes, that’s as far as we go. It’s a story. And we know how the story ends and that influences how we experience it and even what the story is supposed to mean to us. Jesus lives, alleluia.
But this year’s different. I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but in facing this pandemic, we have an opportunity to learn. A lot. Oh, so much. Here’s one little corner. Because we can’t gather for our big communal celebrations, maybe this is an opportunity to look at the story a little more personally, maybe wondering about some of those questions we’ve had that we’ve not asked because, well, tradition. And not necessarily tradition that’s the “we still do it because it’s relevant and meaningful,” but the tradition that’s “we’ve always done it that way.”
I have questions. Maybe you do, too. I’ll just share a few of those and, just to be clear, I mean questions, not challenges, questions.
Like “The Last Supper.” We can call it that – in retrospect – but the disciples didn’t know that, did they? They thought that they were celebrating the Passover meal with Jesus (a ritual meal itself which reminded Hebrews of God freeing them from slavery in Egypt). So the story from which we have built the central ritual of communion, was dinner. A family dinner, for that matter, because that’s what the Passover meal was about, families remembering their heritage with God. Do we remember God at our family meal? Do we remember that we are one family when we celebrate communion?
That’s a really good question this year because we can’t gather in person with our church family. Our church will be sharing communion online through a live streamed service this Easter, because the intention is communion in heart and spirit. As Richard Bott, the Moderator of The United Church has said, “when we share communion where the presider is in one space, and the elements and participants are in many, it is still true the bread that is broken and the juice that is shared continue to be real. Virtual space – real communion.”
On Good Friday, we might spend some time at the foot of the cross. But is our cross Jesus’ cross? In our world, particularly in our country, can we truly understand the horror and pain of the crucifixion? A tool of torture, intimidation and death is the symbol of our faith? I know we’re supposed to see that it’s redeemed by Jesus and all, but I’m still struggling with saying “God loves you” and showing someone a cross.
And if you were there, as the spiritual says, if you could put yourself right there in the story, imagine yourself at the hillside where Jesus was crucified, what would you be feeling? It would be nice to think that we would be horrified, that we would try to help Jesus. But would we? If that was our world, or day, we might just think, oh, it’s another crucifixion – that’s probably ten this week, at least. Maybe we would recognize that this was something different, but what if you were there: what would you think? Or feel? “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
Maybe our Good Friday is tempered a bit by the fact that we know how this part of the story ends: resurrection on Easter Day. Yay, Easter Day! But what if you were there, what if you were Mary Magdalene or Peter or the other disciple that went with him? What do you think Mary felt when she arrived at the tomb that morning, having watched Jesus die, and found it empty? Surprise? Anger? Was her first thought that someone had stolen the body? It wasn’t until she saw Jesus that she knew he was alive. So, Mary was surprised by the resurrection?
I guess that’s my biggest question: are we surprised anymore? Are we so comfortable that we know how the story goes, that we no longer wonder at it, that we are no longer moved by its power, challenged by its meaning. Do you wonder?